Italian Scoops: The Biennale

With our banner

It wasn’t all gelato and Aperol during our trip to Italy. As I mentioned before, GOOD Ideas for Cities was one of 124 projects selected for representation at the U.S. Pavilion of the 13th International Venice Architecture Biennale, and one of a handful of those projects asked to curate a panel at the pavilion. So for the first three days in Venice, I was working (!), to produce our first international event, GOOD Ideas for Cities Venice.

Spontaneous Interventions

The U.S. Pavilion’s exhibition was entitled Spontaneous Interventions: design actions for the common good, and it featured independent, grassroots urban design projects across the country. The exhibit design, by Freecell, really seemed to illustrate the spirit of the projects. Throughout the space, vinyl banners for each project were hung from the ceiling, and as you pulled one down to read it, a counterweight rose somewhere along the wall, lifting the “problem” to reveal the “solution” that the urbanist action created.

Spontaneous Interventions

When so many of the other pavilions were relying on QR codes and video walls, it was refreshing to see such a low-tech approach. It felt way more appropriate to the types of projects featured, many of which had little or no budget and were completed with whatever time and resources were available (and sometimes illegally—awesome!).

Spontaneous Interventions

The exhibition design also made the installation relevant to the topic in another way—the audience was in fact creating its own “design action” by interacting with the banners, and it made the casual observer feel more engaged with the work on display.

Spontaneous Interventions

The GOOD Ideas for Cities banner featured an astounding shot of the 850-person audience from our St. Louis event. Thanks to photographer Joel Connor for graciously giving us permission to use the photo.

Me and @caseycaplowe's names on the wall (well, technically the floor) in Venice!

Besides the banners, lots of information was printed on the floor, including a timeline of urbanist interventions in the U.S., and all the credits. If you visit the pavilion, you can literally walk all over me.

Spontaneous Interventions

It was awesome to see the projects of so many friends and partners in the show as well. Here’s Neighborland, who we worked with on our GOOD Ideas for Cities New Orleans event.

Spontaneous Interventions

And Greenaid, the awesome LA-based company that produces seedbomb vending machines.

Our poster for today's @IdeasforCities event!

Our event was scheduled for the opening day of the Biennale, just after the awards ceremony—where the U.S. won a special commendation! The fact that exhibition put its focus on real-life action rather than polished design also got rave reviews from Michael Kimmelman at the NY Times and Christopher Hawthorne at the LA Times (even when the rest of the Biennale got a ho-hum reception).

GOOD Ideas for Cities Venice

It was incredibly exciting to take the stage at this storied structure that’s hosted work from all of the country’s greatest architects. What an honor!

GOOD Ideas for Cities Venice

The creative teams were incredible and came up with some really fantastic solutions for the city around transportation, sustainability, adaptive reuse, technology, public space and the age-old issues around tourism. We also were honored to have Ezio Micelli, deputy mayor of Venice, join us to give his thoughts on the ideas. He said he planned to take all of them back to work with him.

GOOD Ideas for Cities Venice

And as always happens after these events, one of the coolest things is to watch the new collaborations and partnerships between city leaders and designers start to form—in this case, right there at the Pavilion over a few beers.

Curators and kids!

Huge thanks to Cathy Lang Ho (with her junior curators), Sam Topol and Anne Guiney (not pictured) who invited us to be a part of the event and helped us navigate the often-tricky path of producing an event abroad (and in a different language!). Mille grazie for this incredible honor and a wonderful experience in Venice.

You can see more photos from the Biennale in my Italy album.

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